Even as the Jonaki who lay on her deathbed is as still as the air in a room shut for ages, the Jonaki (Lolita Chatterjee) within is young again, experiencing love, laughter, loss in what appears to be a living dream- quick shots, images that may appear pointless, like life itself but nonetheless make us connect the dots and assign meaning to them. In that sense, the film is more real than fictitious.
A masterpiece in everyone sense (and nothing less can be expected by Aditya Vikram Sengupta after his directorial debut, Labour of Love), Jonaki is set in a bizarre dreamscape. It is layered and has more frames than are found in an average movie. For a film without a linear plot, Jonaki, quite commendably, flows with incredible ease. For instance, the series of subsequent scenes, beginning with Jonaki’s mother (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee), the henpecking mother who burns Jonaki’s Christian wedding dress (symbolic of her disagreement to have Jonaki marry her Christian lover) to Jonaki, sitting in a chair surrounded by darkness and dusty memories, with a lighted up smoke that looks like a sparkler (similar to the scene where her botanist father lights up a strange growth from his head, which one may assume is how she imagined her father die of cancer because she was too young to understand what the term ‘growth’ was about.
With the upbeat but lyrically sombre eponymous title track from the 1966 movie Georgy Girl playing a number of times (at varying tempos) in the background, whether she’s happy and in love or distraught because she’s lost her child, the song becomes undeniably a part of Jonaki’s essence. She dreams of what she used to be, like anyone ever does because the past is always greener and the present, painful. Jonaki is changing and rearranging bits of these nostalgic encounters, ideas and feelings she’s experienced. There are unclear faces, shadows, dim lights and vagueness in what we see on screen, ambiguity when we sleep, in our dreams and certain uncertainty in life.
The settings in the film reflects the sub-conscious. Our cognizance is limited but emotions that stand out in specific circumstances defines the memory rendering everything else unimportant and relegated to the back of the frame and thus darkened. Interestingly, even in the chaos of the quick shots, prolonged shots (like that of characters climbing or descending down the staircases, oxygen mask denoting suffocation in marriage), the mind still manages to find patterns where there might be none (validating Gestalt principles).
Jonaki, a roller coaster ride, demands attention every single moment. It means a different thing to each person; like Sengupta himself proclaimed that the symbolism carried by the oranges will differ in meaning according to the viewer’s life experiences. In doing so, Sengupta has left every scene, every character, and every object that appears on screen open to infinite interpretation, overwhelming the senses, fueling our imaginations.